Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. What I am trying to challenge you to do is to move from the position of simply observing to a position of analysis of where would the next step be to do something about it, which we all want to do. What would be the most important significant next step to change that situation, and in that context you must have a sense of where the weight of gravity is within the network?
  (Dr Wedel) We have repeatedly submitted our recommendations. What should be done? I think that actually without a change in attitude there will be little progress.

  141. What is the first thing you would do to bring about a change in attitude? It is easy to say they need a change in attitude but how can we help?
  (Dr Wedel) That is not our role, to give such recommendations, but our recommendations are really how a law should be changed and how a practice should be changed. What could the UK do? I think first of all it should be made very clear that there cannot be any compromise to human rights and that this is one of the key values of the European Union and that it is not something that is due to a bargaining process more or less but that human rights have to be respected in total. What you can also do is give advice on how that should be implemented into law. I am aware that you are funding training processes but since we do not know the contents of these training seminars we cannot comment on them.


  142. You are not involved in the training courses?
  (Dr Wedel) No.

Mr Chidgey

  143. Dr Wedel, do I take it then that you think that the way that the UK Government can constructively encourage greater respect for human rights is through these training courses? Is there anything else that the UK Government could do constructively to encourage reform?
  (Dr Wedel) The key point is really monitoring the situation on the ground, being in contact with a wide range of people within the country, including the civil society, and trying to figure out what exactly the situation is, not only training seminars. I think that the two of them have to go hand in hand.

  144. I am looking for some guidance from you on what the UK Government can do as a positive step rather than just illustrating or highlighting the fact that the abuses take place but what do you think the UK Government could do as a first step to really encourage constructively greater respect for human rights in Turkey?
  (Mr Hancock) I think that the projects are useful. A number of the ones that I have seen in recent years include things such as forensic training, the idea being that if you create better detective capabilities, better forensic capabilities, you reduce the need to rely on confessions. Things which seek to address torture are useful but they are going to be limited in their usefulness unless the UK continues to stress the need for legal changes, so, for example, it makes it easier to bring police and military officials and other public servants to justice for crimes like torture within Turkey. There has to be a constant linking between some of the project work, which is useful, and some of these big political issues. Some areas where project work can perhaps make a particular difference is in the realms of civil society. The UK has for example provided some funding to create a network of criminal lawyers around Turkey who have human rights expertise and human rights knowledge so that they can share that expertise. That kind of activity is useful to broaden the breadth as well as providing funding, providing technical assistance and expertise, for human rights and other civil society actors. Again, though, you have to dovetail that practical assistance with continuing stress on the Turkish authorities that they need to make movements on freedom of expression and freedom of association, so project work plus.

  145. Can I just take it a bit further? How can and should the UK Government support human rights NGOs within Turkey?
  (Mr Hancock) Political support is of immense importance. I am thinking particularly about the time some years ago, in May 1998, when Robin Cook, when he was Foreign Secretary, went to visit Akin Birdal in hospital just after he had been shot. He was the head of the Human Rights Association in Turkey. That is one very specific and extremely notable example where a Foreign Secretary, just by that action, was obviously making a gesture of humanitarian sympathy, but it was also saying that the British Government views the Human Rights Association as being a credible and legitimate organisation, which is not always a view that has been held by the Turkish authorities. Investing that kind of political support, political recognition, is useful, as is providing funding for the Human Rights Foundation in south-eastern Turkey[11] as well, which deals with torture cases. That political and financial support is important. Also, where possible, when we are able to get Turkish human rights defenders over here, being open to meeting them, to listening to their needs and providing the support that they want, is very important. Hitherto our relationship with the Foreign Office has been constructive enough so that human rights defenders do get out to King Charles Street.

  146. Are the UK and the EU doing enough to encourage Turkey to make human rights reforms? Is it the case that Turkey is getting mixed messages about human rights because of its strategic importance?
  (Mr Hancock) Looking at it from the UK angle for a second, and perhaps Heidi can come in on the EU, I tend to look at the analysis: what is it that the Government are saying? The general formula on which the Government operates is to highlight some good steps and then conclude with a paragraph highlighting the concerns. The analysis is crucial to give us an idea about whether mixed messages are going out. I have to say that, based on the Foreign office's own annual human rights report, a lot of the things that they signpost in Turkey in terms of concerns are things that we are concerned about as well, so I am quite pleased that that analysis parallels ours. I also pleased that at the start of the Foreign Office human rights annual report they drew attention to the legal changes that are taking place, but they also said that there had been backward steps. On that level I am pleased that the Foreign Office is continuing to maintain a realistic analysis.

  147. Again that is comment on the situation rather than specific actions that we and the EU should be taking to encourage Turkey to greater reform is the clue I am looking for.
  (Mr Hancock) The encouragement comes from the terms of the accession partnership where a number of priorities have been set. The encouragement from this point on, now that the accession partnership is in place, is that we will not be fudging on these priorities, that we will not start to say, "You have made the legal changes and we will not worry too much about the situation on the ground", because ultimately it is for Turkey to make the changes and to signpost any assistance that it needs from us. I think the clearest signal is if we maintain the integrity of analysis of the situation.


  148. Dr Wedel was going to comment on the EU activity.
  (Dr Wedel) I agree with the analysis and I think also the EU progress reports are a very good analysis of the situation. In Turkey one point where we think the focus should be stronger is on torture. This was also quite obvious in the presentation which Mr Leigh gave before, that torture was not mentioned among the priorities. Here there should be a stronger focus. I also would like to remind you that when it came to the discussion about the Customs Union human rights were an argument but then when the decision was taken actually the EU decided to enter into a Customs Union with Turkey without any substantive progress in the area of human rights. I think that this should be a lesson that we have learned from the past, that if we want to use such accession processes in order to improve the human rights situation we have to be transparent and consequent and to stick to the criteria that have been set. This does not only mean to look at the legislation but also to look at the situation on the ground. That is a key factor.

Mr Chidgey

  149. You have mentioned a number of times, both of you, the analysis that has been done in Turkey on the ground. You mentioned also the references made in the Foreign Office report. Do you believe that there is sufficient monitoring of human rights being carried out of Turkey by the UK and the EU? Do you think there should be more intensive efforts by the UK and the EU on this?
  (Mr Hancock) I would always say lots more monitoring of the human rights situation. I would love to see more resources invested in Turkey and elsewhere.

  150. Can you explain for the Committee what the monitoring tasks are so that we are better informed on that, as far as Amnesty International is aware of them?
  (Mr Hancock) In terms of the Foreign Office?

  151. Yes, the UK and the EU.
  (Dr Wedel) Maybe I could add an example from our work and co-operation in a way with the German Foreign Office. We have always encouraged them to observe trials on the ground and they indeed started to go to important trial sessions, for example, when human rights defenders were put on trial. This has first of all a symbolic effect, showing some concern about such trials, but also it is part of the monitoring process and we would also encourage the UK to start to observe such trials. I think that would be an additional step to be taken.
  (Mr Hancock) I know that in the past they have observed some trials.

  152. Would it perhaps be more effective, do you believe, if it was done by representatives of the EU rather than individual states within the EU, this monitoring?
  (Mr Hancock) I think there is already a great deal of co-operation within EU missions within Turkey in terms of liaising about human rights assessments and about things like trial monitoring.

Ms Stuart

  153. I absolutely agree with you about increased monitoring. Is it better to reach an agreement with a country in economic terms in a Customs Union than the way we are dealing with it in trying to change attitudes which are deeply entrenched? Turkey is already, in terms of its accession to the EU, saying, "We are being kept at arm's length because we are an Islamic and not a Christian country". There are some sensitivities which we have to simply accept and acknowledge, and by comparison I would like to know what British reaction would have been if we had had a Turkish monitoring unit to observe some of the trials in Northern Ireland as to whether we were complying with human rights, and whether that would be conducive to making us change our minds. Do you not think we should put far more emphasis on, rather than outside NGOs and outside bodies doing the monitoring, working far more with people within Turkey to strengthen them, and just take a step back on what is perceived as a kind of cultural imperialism; otherwise it is very satisfying for us to say, "This is what we have done", but rather to work far more to strengthen what happens on the ground in Turkey? Would you like to comment on that?
  (Mr Hancock) It is absolutely crucial to be talking to those organisations within Turkey. They are the ones that are closest to it. The Human Rights Foundation in south-east Turkey, for example, is the one that is doing the work on torture cases, so they know about that, so I hope that the Foreign Office is already talking to those organisations.

  154. I would like to ask how you as another NGO see that role, that you actually devolve your role and say it is those people on the ground themselves. Dr Wedel herself said earlier on that the changes have to be brought about by Turkey itself.
  (Dr Wedel) But that needs symbolic acts of showing how legitimate the role of the local human rights defenders is. We have to consider that they are doing their work at a very high risk. Some of them have received death threats. There was an armed attack which was in the last minute prevented, so they need protection. Obviously it is very important for them to be there, but not only are they at risk but it is often very difficult for them to make their voices heard and for that they sometimes need foreign support. You can, for example, follow the Turkish media. You will see that sometimes no space is given to the local human rights defenders but as soon as a foreigner says the same thing they are quoted in the media. It needs both: strengthen them within the country but also have obvious contacts with them.

  155. Would you say a little bit more about what you are doing on the ground to strengthen that within Turkey which is the vital thing we need to go forward? What are you doing to strengthen that within Turkey?
  (Mr Hancock) To an extent we provide a degree of the protection function. Certainly we seek to articulate what their concerns are to the Foreign Office ourselves and to other governments around the world so that we talk to them, they tell us what is happening, and then we come to an assessment and publish reports and try to make sure that other governments around the world are aware. One very practical way in which we try to help is in terms of protection where we seek to monitor what is happening to human rights defenders and where we become aware that they may be under threat we move very quickly to try and alert the Turkish authorities that we know about it, and other governments around the world.

  156. What is your assessment about how effective the Foreign Office report on human rights is, and you mentioned the translation into Turkish? How effective are they in your view?
  (Dr Wedel) Translations are extremely important because unfortunately the level of foreign language knowledge in Turkey is not very high.

  157. A bit like Britain?
  (Dr Wedel) That is true. Translation of important handbooks, international standards, in so far as they do not exist already in Turkish is a helpful thing. Also language classes for human rights defenders would be helpful. We have ourselves been involved in that. That could be extended although I assume that the local human rights defenders would not take government support directly but other ways can be found to support language courses for human rights defenders, for example, through British NGOs.

Andrew Mackinlay

  158. I apologise for not being here at the opening of your evidence. It seemed to me that when we are doing an audit of democracy as it were one of the tests, because we have got many deficiencies in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and so on, is whether or not you can appeal arbitrary government, whether or not there is judicial review, where, if you are put into prison, you have got the equivalent of habeus corpus or you can go to court to get restitution of your printing machine. In institutional terms, because most despotic regimes around the world somewhere in their constitution have freedoms (even the old Soviet Union did), quite apart from what might be written in the constitution under statute law in reality to what extent are decisions by government appealable, judiciable?
  (Dr Wedel) There are procedures for that in the law but the implementation is quite problematic. For example, attempts to bring suspected torturers to justice are impeded by a number of factors. Some of them are based in law. For example, there is a law for the prosecution of civil servants which requires that the senior of the suspect has to give permission for an investigation to be opened, so that is a legal impediment, but once that step has been taken then a number of factors contribute, for example, problems in getting medical evidence. There is a lack of training in forensic medicine outside Istanbul or in the more provincial areas or other provincial capitals. There is the intimidation of both doctors and patients by the police and the gendarmerie who accompany them. Then once medical evidence has been obtained courts often do not accept independent medical evidence. They refer all medical questions to a non-independent forensic institute which is then on the other side overburdened with work. They do not often accept psychiatric reports although we have stressed that, especially when it comes to rape allegations, psychiatric reports are very important. There is a reluctance by the prosecutors and sometimes the court to deal with these cases so there are a number of factors which make it very difficult.

  159. Something you said occurred to me. We are very much used to a unitary system of government and, for that matter, justice but we tend to forget in the United Kingdom that many places, even if they do not have devolved parliaments, might have devolved government, and presumably—and this is a question, not a statement—the administration of justice, prosecutions as well and investigations, would vary from governor to governor, would it, or prefect to prefect?
  (Dr Wedel) Yes. For example, under this law for the prosecution of civil servants it is for the governor to give permission for one of the police officers in his area to be prosecuted so there they play an active role. Some local human rights defenders have done, for example, a study in Diyarbakir, in no case has such permission been given by the local governor.[12]

11   Note by witness: The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey has its headquarters in Ankara and also offices in Istanbul, Izmir, Adana and Diyarbakir. The office in Diyarbakir in the southeast has recently come under increased pressure. Back

12   Note by witness: Having studied the files of some 30 formal complaints of torture a local human rights defender found out that between the beginning of 1999 and the middle of 2000 the governor of Diyarbakir did not give permission for a prosecution for torture in any of the cases submitted to him. Back

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